NASA will be facing a difficult task with the retirement of its current space fleet, especially when there is nothing set in stone for the future of the space program.  At this point our concerns with the space shuttle program are irrelevant, as Tom Chivers reports because according to Dr. Richard Fished, NASA’s director of Heliophysics division predicts the world is doomed in 2013.  The concern in 2013 is projecting that the sun will reach the end of its 50 year old stage cycle where large events involving solar flares are expecting to occur.  A solar flare is a sudden and rapid release of bright light from the sun.  This means that magnetic energy gets built up for some time and without warning, gets released.

 However, this is nothing that should be recognized out of the ordinary, because a similar incident occurred in 1859, when a solar storm burned telegraph wires all across Europe and the United States.  Scientist are expecting things to be much worse with today’s technology, meaning that navigation systems will go wacky, causing planes to drop like birds and compasses will spin out of control, and phone signals may be interrupted.  Dr. Tony Phillips reports in Science News, that the Earth magnetic field is expected to increase, causing quite a stir something similar to the events in the popular movie The Day After Tomorrow

 NASA has been working diligently with Congress to help prevent such incidents from occurring if a major solar flare were to happen.  NASA does want to inform people of how dangerous and real these solar flares are, but are preventable if the proper steps are taken.  NASA is aware of when many solar flares take place, and have the ability to shut down satellites, and communication systems which are protected by shields to avoid high levels of electromagnetic activity.  While some day Earth may be doomed by solar flares or other catastrophic events, it would be considered out of the ordinary at this point. 

 What needs to be realized is these solar flares or catastrophic events, should never be overlooked.  Even though NASA, has a handful of problems to deal with including its scientific research, the International Space Station, our current shuttle program and satellite mission; its possible events like these NASA must be prepared for.  Yet, with no budget and overspending on projects that have yet to help our space program, NASA seems to be providing little help.  If NASA doesn’t react and come to its senses quick enough, Johnson Space Center will never live down its famous phrase, “Houston. . . We Have a Problem!”

Four Museums were granted their ultimate wish on Tuesday (April 12, 2011) to be one of the select few to ever display a NASA space shuttle.   Kennedy Space Center, Florida; Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, in Washington D.C.; the California Science Center, Los Angeles;  and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York; were selected by NASA among a total of 21 museums around the country that placed a bid for a space shuttle to have a permanent home.  NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden announced the locations of the space shuttles, while being a bit emotional.  Yet, he reminded NASA and its selected museums to stay that the journey of our space shuttles are far from over.  Museums still need to build exibits, along with much planning and preperation to transport each shuttle.

Yet, the real question that remains, what about the other museums that were not granted a space shuttle?  NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce explains that some museums decided to take a gamble, for instance like Seattle’s Museum of Flight which had already began construction on its new space gallery and Chicago’s Adler Planetarium had architectural designs in the works. Both were hoping that these factors would help them retrieve a space shuttle to put on display in their museum, however, it didn’t help.

Yet, the big surprise that day was that no space shuttle would be in the state of Texas.  George Bush Presidential Library, The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History, and not even Johnson Space Center (NASA Mission Control) received a space shuttle to put on display.  Fox News reported that this news release sent a ripple effect throughout the great state, leaving many people including NASA employees rather disappointed.  Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas expressed his disappointment in NASA’s decision because Johnson Space Center is a main priority when it comes to the human space flight program.  U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady was outraged by this decision and  believes that stupidity and politics lead to NASA’s decision, and once again they left Johnson Space Center out.

It was interesting to see how big of a deal the final resting locations would be for the NASA shuttles.  Even with America facing economic problems, museums were still willing to spend money and take a chance at acquiring a space shuttle.  While these space shuttles are a significant part of history it still seemed like quiet a gamble, that has led many museums unhappy.  From the standpoint of Texas, NASA has only betrayed one of its own agency’s.

Tuesday (April 12, 2011) is characterized as a memorable day in space innovation.  NASA officials have describe this day as one filled with much emotion and anticipation.  It was 30 years ago from this date that sparked our nation’s first shuttle launch into space and 50 years ago of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin journey to space.  However, the real historic moment of today’s news, was the press conference called by NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden to announce the retirement homes (museums) that would have the honor of displaying one of the four remaining space shuttles (Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavor, and Enterprise). 

Bolden, revealed it was not an easy decision to determine the locations of these space shuttles.  This was a process that had started back in 2008 when over 21 museums were asked to state their pitch, with hopes that they may be lucky enough to get a space shuttle to put on display.  Bolden knew that today would be extremely exciting as four museums were granted their wish, but also extremely disappointing that NASA had to deny the other 17 museums request.  The Atlantis space shuttle will be displayed at Kennedy Space Center, Florida; the Discovery at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, in Washington D.C.; the Endeavor at the California Science Center, Los Angeles; and the Enterprise (the prototype that never flew in space) at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, New York. 

 CNN reported that while these four museums are thankful to have the honor of displaying a piece of space history; there also comes a big price tag of 28.8 million dollars.  This money is what museums must pay NASA in order to prepare and transport each particular shuttle as it will piggyback on NASA 747 jetliner to its proper destination.  NASA has also strictly enforced that each shuttle must remain indoors in its own climate controlled facility.  While  adding these space shuttles to these particular museums is expected to increase popularity and sales revenues,  the Kennedy Space Center is looking at bringing in an additional 15 million dollars once Atlantis is put on display and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York is estimating over 116 million dollars in revenue benefits.           

Though it may seem bitter sweet that NASA will be receiving  a grand total of 115.2 million dollars for its space shuttles, they have yet to reveal their plans after all shuttles are retired.  While NASA may simply be focused on completing its last several space missions this summer, and then shortly after preparing the shuttles for delivery; the rest of America and the world waits in the dark to figure out what happens next.  Many are baffled by this decision, especially when such a prestigious agency has always helped direct the world towards future space innovations.

Though it seems NASA is facing an undecided future with their International Space Station, along with spending hundreds of millions of dollars on rockets that will never fly and leaving the world in a blur about potential alien life forms;  the space program is once again building a positive repute with its latest mission.  MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) on March 17, 2011 reached its historic 4.9-billion- mile journey to orbit the planet Mercury.  MESSENGER Project Manager Peter Bedini of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) believes this is a defining moment and stepping stone in our countries history to be able to have a satellite orbit Mercury.   This accomplishment was achieved due to the tremendous amount of time, labor and expertice engineers put into navigating the satellite.  This was no easy task, especially since MESSENGER was launched nearly six and a half years ago.

Fox News became eager about this exploration mission and began to investigate by talking to NASA officials.  Fox News explains that while Jupiter might be known for its moons and Saturn for its rings, Mercury is probably the most bizarre planet in the solar system.  Since Mercury has no sustainable atmosphere temperatures can be a  frigid 280 degrees below zero, but also a scorching hot 800 degrees.  These drastic temperature changes may affect how the satellite will operate, which has caused these engineers to worry about the long awaited journey.                  

However, the real question about this mission is, why have a satellite orbit Mercury?  MESSENGER Investigator Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, believes that many people see Mercury as the forgotten planet.  This is a rare opportunity explore Mercury, and by doing so may reveal information never known about this planet.  Specific areas NASA would like to understand are the planet’s composition, core structure, and magnetic field because there may be clues to understanding the evolution of our solar system.

It has been interesting to see how different news agencies gather and report information about the current situation involving NASA and their space program. Yet, what’s come at a real surprise and been rather interesting to examine is the information that has been gathered by bloggers.  They have unleashed their opinions by demanding that the United States keep the space program running.  Sam Patel of SAVE NASA, along with fellow students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, are sending a direct message to Congress, explaining why there is a high demand to keep space exploration.

 After looking at the petition this group put together, there are some interesting perspectives to think about for the ISS and space in general.  This group begins to discuss, that mankind has been drawn to the heavens for the same adventures that were once embarked on to find land.  The idea of exploration and adventure may soon run out if our government doesn’t act quickly to determine NASA’s future.  John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to be the leaders in space exploration by not only being the first on the moon, but creating technological advancements.  We can thank the NASA and its space program for the technological achievements like: ultrasound scanners, pacemakers, hearing aids, MRI tests, and surgery tools.  Its breakthrough technology like the ones stated above can continue to change human life, if Obama Administration will continue to let it happen.

The petition continues on about the Obama Administrations skepticism and changing the funding for direct space travel to private enterprise.  If the government plans on pouring billions upon billions of dollars into a new space program that has had no time for preparation, no outlined agenda for its future; it  could inevitably destroy all leadership capabilities and lead to bankruptcy.  If money seems to be the big problem to continue space exploration and the existence of the ISS; form a global financial effort.  It’s important to realize that the ISS just recently was completed, so now scientists can devote time to advanced research and experiments, which is why there has been a huge push to keep the ISS operational till at least 2020.

 Another perspective to look at is by Thierry Legault, an active blogger on space exploration,  posted his blog that discusses the ISS after ten years.  After all the “pork barreling” that was involved to get politicians to agree to this multi-billion science project; now the government needs to realize that the space station actually exists and it needs to be put to use.  Money has already been spent to make the project happen, so don’t let it be wasted.  Maybe next time NASA and the United States government, may learn to manage their money a little better and not bite off more than they can chew.

 Though the ISS has been a huge part of my discussion of the past several weeks, next time see why NASA is so eager to understand and explore planets in our solar system.

It may seem unreal that the United States would abandon the International Space Station (ISS), especially when the program completed construction this past year; but with only five years left on the current NASA contract, it’s undetermined in the direction our country wants to go with space exploration.  The government needs to react by answering this important question, especially when it affects the longevity of our nation. Terminating the ISS program will affect our countries leadership ability and possibly ignite negative international perceptions.  This inevitability would demonstrate to other nations our lack of commitment to science and potentially leaves the United States as a bystander and miss out on great opportunities in the development of new research.

The Space Foundation in their article for the ISS, stress the importance of international partnerships by saying that nations has been given great opportunities to join one another in international affairs and doing so has created much success for everyone.  It’s important to realize that the ISS has and will continue to be the stepping stone for collaborations among nations.    The ultimate failure for the United States would to not renew its contract with the ISS for the sheer fact it would ruin international relations and will globally be seen as an unreliable partner.  This could mean that all future scientific studies and explorations the country must financially pay for without any help.  With our nation already in financial turmoil, this could severally alter government spending.

However, today President Obama was at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to help not only eliminate criticism he has been receiving towards the space program, but more importantly to calm and comfort NASA employees that may be out of a job when the shuttle program ends.  President Obama told NASA he was committed to their programs and capabilities.  He also made it clear that our nation has already been to the moon and we must look past that and realize there are bigger and better explorations to be had by our astronauts.

Finally, what seemed most intriguing, while understanding our government’s situation with the ISS; was looking at what bloggers and opinion based websites had to say about our countries current dilemma.  This particular website, called thepetitionstite.com, though relatively small still delivered a powerful concept.  Here it has its bloggers state their claim about saving the ISS and also encouraging them to spread the word to others, with aspirations of reaching one thousand signatures in their petition.  One particular message that Michael Hebert states in this petition is that, to de-orbit our space station just five years after complete is a poor decision and is a slap in the face to every American and international partner involved.  Our government needs to act now, because if not, time will soon be up.

NASA and its subcontractors must get plans in motion if they are considering a project for being a space taxi service to shuttle astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) before the 2020 deadline.  However, there is an even bigger problem, at the moment there has been no funding put into place to support the ISS beyond 2015. With budget constraints and a diminishing shuttle program, NASA may end its participation in the program.  This also means by 2016 the ISS is scheduled what scientist believe to be a controlled de-orbit into the Pacific Ocean; yet nothing that has been manmade of its size has allowed NASA scientist to actually determine how it can be done in the safest manner. 

It’s important to realize that while the United States may want to end its participation in the program, International partners (Russia, Japan, Canada & Europe) are interested in continuing the program.  The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain, has openly spoken to BBC News, about his desire to keep the ISS flying past the 2015.  He believes there is great worth in the ISS and in order to maintain that prolonged existence, countries need to hire more scientists to develop and run experiments.  However, it’s difficult to persuade these scientist when they obviously know there will be little time or money to produce any material.  Dordain, also goes on to discuss that having the ISS allows scientists to conduct research and experiments from afar and bring back information to a variety of fields, not just including those dealing with science. 

The main perspective and scenario that needs to be evaluated here is the United States, according to the Space Foundation.  Our country decision to potentially withdraw impacts the future of ISS.  There are potential issues that could be altered, such as perceptions of the United States, space exploration, workforce and most importantly education.  It seems unusual to withdraw when the United States has the most advanced space program in the world and the main purpose of the ISS is to help benefit all of mankind.